Gaîté Montparnasse . Paris

MVRDV . photos: © Ossip van Duivenbode

Gaîté Montparnasse, the MVRDV-designed transformation of a city block just a short walk from Paris’ Tour Montparnasse, is now open. The project has rationalised the existing uses of the mixed- use block – which included a hotel, shopping centre, office space and a library – and densified the area by adding social housing and a kindergarten. In doing so, the building has become more welcoming and accessible to pedestrians, while reusing significant parts of the previous structure from the 1970s following circular economy principles.

Completed in 1974, the original design of the “Îlot Vandamme” by Pierre Dufau was a landmark in its time, with the strong vertical lines of what is now the Pullman Hotel tower creating an unmissable presence in Montparnasse. At the same time, the plinth of rough textured concrete, boxy reflective glass, and red steel lattices epitomised the foibles of its era: surrounded by wide boulevards, the block was dominated by cars, and when viewed from the street looked introverted and unwelcoming.

MVRDV’s transformation sustainably reuses as much of the structure of this plinth as possible, while dramatically altering the building’s relationship to its surroundings. The building now has a consistent street frontage along its main façade on Avenue du Maine, with large windows providing a clear view into the activities housed within. This large mass is broken up into a visually playful façade by means of a selection of different cladding tones, various small setbacks and overhangs, and balconies and showcase windows in large, multi-storey frames.

The design rethinks the arrangement of programme within the block from first principles. The two- storey shopping centre that fills most of the site is now topped by multiple blocks, significantly densifying the area to make maximal use of this city centre location. Offices, previously spread in three storeys over the top of the shopping centre, are now condensed into a seven-story block on the east of the site, forming part of the building’s main façade. At the heart of the site, in between the hotel tower and the Le Héron office block to the north, the design incorporates a block of 62 social houses and a kindergarten. Meanwhile the library, previously relegated underground, now occupies a two-storey space on the other side of the hotel tower making it more visible and accessible.

The design of Gaîté Montparnasse shows that even the most dramatic transformations can be achieved using sustainable and circular economy approaches. The new design appears completely unrelated to its predecessor – even the floorplates are shaped differently to the 1970s design – and yet it carefully reuses this concrete structure wherever possible, stitching the old floor plates into the new plans. For the addition of the housing block, a timber structure was used to reduce the carbon footprint of the new construction.

Gaîté Montparnasse is the second transformation project completed by MVRDV for Unibail-Rodamco- Westfield in 2022, following La Part-Dieu shopping centre in the centre of Lyon, which turned another design from the 1970s into a vibrant piece of Lyon’s city centre.

Location: Paris, France
Client: Unibail-Rodamco, France
Year: 2008+
Programme: 108,000m2 transformation including new façade, internal restructuring and extension of mixed-use block with a hotel, offices, commercial spaces, a library, 62 social housing and a 350m2 kindergarten.
Budget: Undisclosed
Architect: MVRDV
Principal in charge: Winy Maas
Partner: Frans de Witte
Design Team:
Concept: Bertrand Schippan with Michael Labory, Catherine Drieux, Pierre des Courtis, Antoine Muller, Mikel Vazquez, Jonathan Schuster, Nicolas Bouby, Arjen Ketting, Jaap Baselmans, Pilar Zorraquin, Jill Pichon, John Tsang and David Jimenez Moreno.
Development: Michael Labory, Pierre des Courtis, Catherine Drieux, Andrea Anselmo, , Javier Cuenca Solana, Matteo Spalletti, Chiara Cappelluti, Solène de Bouteiller, Antoine Muller, Séverine Bogers, Daniele Zonta, Paul Sanders, Diana Palade, Mikel Vazquez Alvarez, Francis Liesting, Boris Tikvarski, John Pantzar, Stephan Boon, Clémentine Bory, Quentin Rihoux and Louis Laulanné
Images: Antonio Luca Coco, Paolo Idra Mossa and Tomaso Maria Maschietti
Copyright: MVRDV – (Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries)
Co-Architect: SRA Architectes, Chatillon, France
Interior Designer Hotel: CUT, Paris, France
Interior Designer Commercial Center : Saguez, Saint-Ouen, France
Construction Pilot: Egis, Montreuil, france
Engineer: SCYNA4, Ivry-sur-Seine, France
MEP Engineers: LAFI + INEX, Vaulx-en-Velin, France
Economist: Vanguard, Paris, France
Façade Engineer: Arcora, Rueil-Malmaison, France (formerly RFR)